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Jean Sprackland's book Tattoos for Mothers Day was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 1999. Hard Water is her second collection.
Winner of the Costa Poetry Award 2007.Costa Book Awards 2007 Judges' comment: "Taut, powerful poems which balance the anxieties of experience against the possibility of the miraculous."
Brilliant young woman poet joins Cape list Though firmly rooted in the domestic, natural world, Jean Sprackland's poems are thrilling excursions into the lives that we live alongside our everyday ones: the lives we are aware of in dreams, in grief, in love. She shows us the vertigo and vulnerability of human experience with great clarity and precision, tenderness and care. These are vivid poems full of light and weather and water - awash with water: a flooded forest, acid rain, an inland tidal wave, an ocean of broken glass; jellyfish washed up on the beach that 'lay like saints/unharvested, luminous'. There is an arresting imagination at work here, one as relaxed and at home in an alternative world of babies in filing cabinets, light collectors or the visiting dead, as it is in the world we think we know: supermarkets, empty flats, the A580 from Liverpool to Manchester. In the title poem, Sprackland sets out her store: 'I tried the soft stuff on holiday in Wales, a mania of teadrinking and hairwashing, excitable soap which never rinsed away, but I loved coming home to this. Flat. Straight. Like the vowels, Like the straight talk: hey up me duck...the blunt taste of don't get mardy, of too bloody deep for me, fierce lovely water that marked me for life as belonging, regardless. ' Lucid, sensuous and informed by an unusually tactile curiosity, the poems in Hard Water mark the assured arrival of an important poet.
Graveyards are oases: places of escape, of peace and reflection. Each is a garden or nature reserve, but also a site of commemoration, where the past is close enough to touch: a liminal place, at the border of the living world. Jean Sprackland's prize-winning book, Strands, brought to life the histories of objects found on a beach. These Silent Mansions is also an uncovering of individual stories: vivid, touching and intimately told. Sprackland travels back through her own life, revisiting graveyards in the ordinary towns and cities she has called home, seeking out others who lived, died and are remembered or forgotten there. With her poet's eye, she makes chance discoveries among the stones and inscriptions: a notorious smuggler tucked up in a sleepy churchyard; ancient coins unearthed on a secret burial ground; a slow-worm basking in the sun. These Silent Mansions is an elegant, exhilarating meditation on the relationship between the living and the dead, the nature of time and loss, and how - in this restless, accelerated world - we can connect the here with the elsewhere, the present with the past.
Jean Sprackland is celebrated for her tactile, transformative poetry which makes the miraculous seem familiar and the domestic other-worldly. Her new collection is tuned to new and deeper frequencies. 'Green noise' is the mid-frequency component of white noise - what some have called the background noise of the world - and these poems listen for what is audible, and available to be known and understood, and what is not. Each poem is an attempt at location - in time, in place, in language. Some enquire into the natural world and our human place in it, by investigating hidden worlds within worlds: oak-apples, aphid-farms, firewood teeming with small life. Others go in search of fragments of a mythic and often brutal past: the lost haunts of childhood, abandoned villages, scraps of shared history which are only ever partially remembered. A physical relic or a mark on the landscape seems briefly to offer a portal, where a sounding is taken from present to past and back again. Deeply engaged with the flux of the world, these poems are alert, precise and vividly memorable - listening to the 'machine of spring/with all your levers thrown to max', 'hearing the long bones of the trees stretch and crack'.
In her first collection since the Costa-winning Tilt, Jean Sprackland looks back at endings and beginnings: the end of a life, or of a marriage; old homes lived in and left, new homes discovered. There are poems that speak of the paralysis and bewilderment of knowing something is over, and of the strangely significant, almost votive nature of the things that are left behind: the biscuit tin 'of old keys, decommissioned and sleeping', the empty room fading 'to a tinnitus of dust and dead wasps'. This is a book of transitions - domestic and emotional - and it explores how the experience of change is painful, disorientating, even catastrophic, but also profoundly necessary and revelatory. Change brings with it the hope that love can be recovered out of the ruins; change, in fact, is a creative, healing force that shows us we have been living among ruins - that even in the face of grief and loss there are 'spectral futures / we must stride the ditch to reach'. Full of exact, vivid, clear-eyed observation of a world of failure and flux, Sleeping Keys also illuminates a future world beyond. For every object left emptied of significance, bereft, Jean Sprackland shows us another that is charged and radiant with possibility - the possibility of miracles.
Strands describes a year's worth of walking on the ultimate beach: inter-tidal and constantly turning up revelations: mermaid's purses, lugworms, sea potatoes, messages in bottles, buried cars, beached whales and a perfect cup from a Cunard liner. This is a series of meditations prompted by walking on the wild estuarial beaches of Ainsdale Sands between Blackpool and Liverpool, Strands is about what is lost and buried then discovered, about all the things you find on a beach, dead or alive, about flotsam and jetsam, about mutability and transformation - about sea-change.
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